Fast by Kate Barton. Park 90, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 to 9 November. 3***. William Russell.

By Kate Barton
Park 90, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP to 9 November 2019.
Mon – Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 79 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 78706876.
Review: William Russell 16 October.

A terrific and terrifying performance by Caroline Lawrie should keep you transfixed in your seats in this play based on the true story of Linda Hazard, a quack doctor who ran a health spa at Olalla near Seattle in Washington State, where she practised a cure all starvation diet, benefiting in the will’s of those who failed to survive – some 40 patients are reckoned to have died as a result of her ministrations.Two English sisters, Dora and Claire Williamson, who were interested in alternative medicine, went for treatment and Barton’s play is about what happened to them. It works well as a piece of grande guignol, and all the performances are good, but without Lawrie’s mesmerising turn it would work far less well. The unveiling of what is going on is done through the investigations of Horace Clayton, a reporter on a local newspaper, and his interventions are, in stage terms, rather clumsy. You need more information to explain why eventually something was done and to understand why was everyone so willing to ignore what was going on.
In the end for me this script would have worked far better as a radio play than it does in the theatre. Director Kate Valentine screws up the tension effectively and there is a nicely ominous set by Emily Bestow, which does help. But while Ms Barton has a unearthed a splendid horror story she has not quite managed to create the play to tell it – a case of back to the drawing board perhaps, maybe a few more characters to speed the plot. There were attendants at Wilderness Heights, who seem to have gone along with what Hazard was up to, and she did have a husband, for instance. But Hazard was good newspaper copy, it was an age of alternative medicine being fashionable, and it took time for anyone to question just what was going in. She was found out eventually and in 1912 was convicted of manslaughter following the death of one of the Williamson sisters, but pardoned a couple of years later by the State governor whose wife she had allegedly “cured” of something or other. The couple went to New Zealand, tried to practice there without much success, and in due course returned to the United States where they set up another treatment business in Olalla, although she was not now qualified as a doctor. The irony is that in 1938 she died as a result of taking her own course of treatments.
Lawrie is really quite something, exuding menace, but also lots of charm to conceal the ruthlessness with which Hazard kept people taking the medicine – she appears to have given them some noxious drugs as well – while existing on enemas, brutal massages and lots of water. It is a fine performance well worth catching – Joan Crawford would have played Hazard to the hilt – and Natasha Cowley and Claire Williamson make the sisters truly pitiable if extremely silly to have allowed themselves to take part in Hazard’s regime. It takes a master quack to “sell” starvation as a cure all and Hazard appears to have been one of the best.Fast is a chilling three star play with a blood curdling four star performance from Lawrie.

Caroline Lawrie: Linda Hazard.
Natasha Cowley: Dora Williamson.
Jordon Stevens: Claire Williamson.
Horace Cayton Jr: Daniel Norford.

Director: Kate Valentine.
Set & Costume Designer: Emily Bestow.
Sound Designer: David Chilton.
Lighting & Projection Designer: Ben Bull.
Production Photography: Manuel Harlan.

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